One hundred and eighty days. That's how long the current gag on media is meant to last and enough time for the Nepali media to do some much needed soul-searching.
These are challenging times for those in the news business as they try to communicate in a time of censorship. It tests the media's creativity and ingenuity to find news beyond the headlines.
Nepal's media has been obsessed with reporting politics, the antics of politicians and their quarrels. The next six months provide an opportunity to do things differently and untangle itself from politics. With objectivity and fairness, the media can stand tall and fearless. Before the royal takeover, one had to read an assortment of newspapers to get a sense of what actually happened. Just reading one newspaper, watching one TV channel or listening to one radio station, never gave the whole story.
Journalists must also bring themselves down from their pedestals, the ivory tower from which they talk down on those they interview or question. That arrogance and cynicism comes across as journalists connect with interviewees. The greatness of reporters comes in quashing their egos, staying in the background and letting their subjects speak.
These days most newspapers have slimmed down and seem hungry for matter-a perfect time to start chasing real stories. This is the opportunity for investigative journalism and there are hundreds of stories waiting to be told: 'safe' issues like environment, health, education and day-to-day living. Why is there an increasing trend of deadly road accidents? How are Nepali families who have fled the conflict managing? What are their children doing? What about displaced children? Why have so many sidewalk trees been chopped down all over the valley? Are all the orphans really orphans? How has the anti-chhaupadi campaign changed the lives of the men and women in the far-west? Do the sand and stone mining syndicates on our rivers understand the ecological impact of mining?
Publishers have always argued that such 'soft' stories don't interest the public as much as juicy political ones. This could be true but only because the public wasn't given a choice. This could be the time to start doing news that is relevant to people's lives, raise their awareness and even spread optimism and motivation. In the past years, with the escalation of conflict there have been unending talk shops. On a typical day there would be simultaneous workshops covered in excruciating detail by tv, radio and print. Gosti-patrakarita dominated coverage with visuals of inaugurations, chief guests speaking from the podiums, cameras panning across the self-conscious audience and journalists then scooting off across town to cover another series of talking heads. Today, media has fewer functions, workshops and seminars to cover and should use the time to do real news.
The media must be introspective and improve accuracy in reporting. As they diversify the nature of stories, journalists have to re-educate themselves in getting it right. Many have forgotten journalism school rules to cross-check facts, make sure quotes are correct and contextualised, privacy is respected and there is no defamation. They must also re-learn to do followups and move beyond event reporting. The horrific bus accident in Pyuthan last month that killed more than 40 people was reported as just another accident, not as part of a serious trend in escalating highway fatalities. There are all these issues about road safety, the poor conditions of roads, easy availability of licenses, overcrowding and intoxicated drivers. To be fair, some media have followed-up on the accident and analysed the aftermath, including the decision by the widowed not to don white mourning garb.
Ten days have passed, there are 161 days to go. There is time for the media to take stock of itself so that it surfaces stronger and more powerful.